Nova Scotia

Drake University classes banned as upgrades for pre-approved teachers

Nova Scotia teachers pre-approved for a questionable upgrading program won't be getting the boost in licences — and salaries — they've been expecting, the Minister of Education said Tuesday.

Education Minister Karen Casey imposed ban last April, but some teachers previously approved

Education Minister Karen Casey said courses from Iowa-based Drake University will no longer be accepted, even for the hundreds of teachers who already have the department's approval to take them. (CBC)

Nova Scotia teachers pre-approved for a questionable upgrading program won't be getting the boost in licences — and salaries — they've been expecting, the Minister of Education said Tuesday.

Karen Casey said courses from Iowa-based Drake University will no longer be accepted, even for the hundreds of teachers who already have the department's approval to take them.

"We want to make sure that the quality of the programs that teachers are using for upgrades meet a high standard. Recognizing that the Drake courses did not meet that standard, in our opinion, we made the decision that we would no longer accept them as courses for upgrading," she said Tuesday.

"Teachers can still take the Drake courses if that's their choice. But as a certification process, we will not be recognizing them for certification."

The Drake program first came under scrutiny last year, after a CBC News investigation showed a growing number of teachers taking the courses, described as "bird courses" by at least one educator

Pay bump between $6K and $8K

At the time, CBC News found more than 40 teachers had completed the courses — largely in coaching — using them to boost their certification level and bump their pay between $6,000 and $8,000 a year.

In April 2014, Casey said she was putting an end to teachers using Drake distance education, but said those already approved to take the courses would still be allowed to do so.

That's no longer an option for the 450 to 470 teachers who were pre-approved.

The Drake distance courses involve reading, a DVD and writing assignments, but no significant research papers or regular conversations with professors and fellow students.

In the year since the Department of Education put a stop to new pre-approvals, another 37 teachers have upgraded their licences using the Drake DVD courses. 

Casey said she was hoping teachers and their union would see that the courses, in her view, have no value in the classroom.

'We're probably on different pages'

"We had hoped for some leadership from the teachers union and that teachers themselves would say, 'Maybe this isn't directly related to the assignment that I am doing, maybe this isn't something in my professional development portfolio that I need to strengthen' and make those decisions themselves," she said.

"That did not happen."

Robert Berard, an education professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, said he's surprised by the minister's announcement, calling it a bold move. 

"Governments here normally don't overturn decisions they've made but there was a lot of public support for doing that in this case, so this may have emboldened minister Casey to do that," he said.

Casey said she's written to Shelley Morse, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, about this decision and has discussed with the union leader the importance of professional development being directly related to the teaching assignment and the success of student learning.

"We're probably on different pages on this one," said Casey.

The teachers union was not available for comment on Tuesday.

The Department of Education is asking any teachers enrolled in the program to contact the department's office of teacher certification before March 27, to provide an update on where they are in their course of study.

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